Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 2:52 pm, 24th June 2020

Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that many in my constituency, where the Westferry Printworks site is located, will be watching this debate closely. In May, it became clear that there are serious questions as to whether the Secretary of State is the right person to continue to oversee planning applications and the housing portfolio. Events have continued to unfold, and the picture painted keeps getting worse, as my hon. Friend Steve Reed laid out.

Having lived in the area all my life, I am acutely aware of the strong local feeling that developers should be accountable to residents and that local communities must be empowered and centrally involved in decision-making processes around local planning and building regulation. The Secretary of State is supposed to be making homes safe and holding developers to account, not simply socialising with them. For example, I am alarmed that the Government’s monthly building safety statistics reveal that hundreds of high-rise buildings covered in Grenfell-style ACM cladding still have not had it removed and replaced, including many in my constituency.

The Secretary of State should be delivering truly affordable and secure long-term housing, including council housing, not undermining local efforts to address the complex needs of an area with the highest rate of child poverty in the entire country. In the real world beyond dinners with billionaires, many of my constituents struggle with the near impossible situation of having soaring monthly rents, which all too often mean that people—particularly those on low incomes—face an increased risk of homelessness.

Transparency is not only critical in providing confidence in the integrity of major decisions; it is about making sure that the right decisions are made. The debate thus far has been vital in highlighting the need for full openness on communications concerning the Westferry Printworks development. The circumstances that gave rise to the Housing Secretary’s decision, including a meeting between him and the developer at a party fundraising event, point to serious weaknesses in the rules governing lobbying, access and influence in the UK. It is therefore only right and proper that all documents —and I emphasise, all documents—relating to the approval of the application in January 2020 are made public and that our constituents are empowered to hold those in power accountable, as should be their right.